May 6, 2020 / 9:06 AM / a month ago

Ancient mill rises as Britain bakes at home

TETBURY, England (Reuters) - Shipton Mill, which was milling flour when the Normans conquered England nearly a thousand years ago, has seen a rare boon from the novel coronavirus outbreak - soaring demand for its organic flour from a new generation of locked-down home bakers.

Nestled at the end of a lane among woods on a tributary of the River Avon, Shipton Mill offers dozens of ancient flours - some still stoneground and some from ancient English wheat varieties - to baking beginners and professionals.

Such is the spike in demand from home bakers that Joe Lister, head of purchasing and sales at the mill, said he has had trouble keeping up, even though some sales to traditional bakeries have fallen off due to lockdown closures.

“The rise in demand in home baking is so big that we can’t keep up,” said Lister, whose father bought the mill in 1981 to restore. “We have never seen a demand spike like this before - very, very focused on home baking and so intense.”

The art of bread making has seen a curious renaissance as billions around the world grapple with the solitude of seeing out coronavirus lockdowns.

Novice bakers, especially in the time-challenged cultures of London and New York, now have hours for the mixing, kneading and multiple rises. Some say it soothes. Others enjoy breaking the bread with lovers, family, or even, on the sly, with neighbours.

In Britain, flour and yeast sold out within days of the start of the outbreak, partly due to packaging shortages.

QUEUES FOR FLOUR

Just before the British lockdown was imposed in late March, Shipton Mill had people queuing outside from morning until night. Then came 10,000 online orders in 3 days - what they would usually get in three months.

“It caught us off guard, massively off guard,” said Lister, standing outside a Tudor post-and-beam part of the mill.

The mill, mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086, was selling about 40 tonnes of flour a month to home bakers, small cafes and micro-bakeries.

“We now do that in about three to four days - it’s really astonishing to get that much flour out of the door,” said Lister who has hired new staff to pick and pack the flour.

“For the actual milling, you cannot really take on anyone new - you cannot really train a miller in six weeks.”

Slideshow (16 Images)

His top picks are his flagship Organic White Flour No.4, a blend of continental and English organic wheats, organic Einkorn, one of the earliest cultivated varieties of wheat, and flours milled from John Letts’ blends of ancient varieties.

So what is his tip for home bakers grappling with their poolish or proofing?

“My baking personally, I enjoy it more when I don’t worry too much, so I don’t get too fussed about timings,” he said. “If you start with really great quality ingredients you will end up with something that is pretty good, hopefully.”

Reporting by Dylan Martinez and Will Russell; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Michael Holden and Janet Lawrence

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